Friday, August 26, 2016

The Portland Film Festival Starts Tuesday


The Portland Film Festival is a gem. I was introduced to the festival last year and it instantly became one of my favorites thanks to discovering films such as MADE IN JAPAN, TYKE:KILLER ELEPHANT, THE GLAMOUR AND THE SQUALOR and of course the must see THE BUSINESS OF AMATEURS. When it was done I was thrilled to realize that I had found the perfect festival to end the summer and prepare myself for the fall season.

And now as August winds down I’m heading back for another go round.

What makes Portland so cool is that in addition to the films they have tons of special events and classes. There is so much I don’t know where to begin. So much is going on that you could go to the festival and never see a film- which is a cool thing when you thing about it because it means the festival is more than just about film but culture. It’s a festival that’s alive and vibrant and I’m trying to decide where I’m going to begin wading in. (Here is the program book- take a look and you too will start booking your trip now)

I’m not going to lie and tell you I’ve seen a ton of their films, because I haven’t, not yet anyway. Things going on in my personal life have prevented me from getting a head start- but not to worry once the festival starts Monday I will start dropping reviews. We’ll be going through this together this time so expect lots of reports from the road.

Honestly there are a ton of films I want to see WIZARD MODE, NEIL STRYKER AND THE TYRANT OF TIME and UNSEEN. I’m especially looking forward to ON THE FARM which played at Women Texas and I got several frantic emails about telling me I had to see it. Hopefully it lives up to the hype.

Several of the films have played at other festivals we’ve covered so her are a few reviews to mull over until the reports from the fest start up.

OVARIAN PSYCHOS
SPAGHETTIMAN
LEGEND OF SWEE' PEA
THE LIBERATORS
PRISON DOGS
THE LESSON

And as for SHE SINGS TO THE STARS I've seen it somewhere along the road but a guest reviewer dropped out so it never got reviewed . If I remember it correctly its not bad.

I've also seen SEARCH DOG, the story of Matthew Zarrella, a Rhode Island State Police Sergeant who rescues unadoptable dogs and turns them into search and rescue dogs. Highly recommended

If you’re close to Portland and love film you need to go. If you don’t live near Portland but aren’t having major surgery you need to book a flight and go. Trust me great things are happening in Portland and they are all at the film festival.

For more information go here
For Tickets
And to help you pick a film here is the program

Glory Daze: The Life and Times of Michael Alig (2015)

Third go round of the life of Michael Alig, the infamous club kid who eventually killed his drug dealer. His life was documented in PARTY MONSTER: THE SHOCKUMENTARY a documentary and another fiction film with the same title with Macaulay Culkin as Alig.

A long portrait of Alig and the scene he traveled the film is both a enlightening and way too much. Running approximately 134 minutes the film is everything you wanted to know about Alig and New York City in the 1980's and 1990's and a whole bunch more that you probably don't want to know. The film charts Alig's arrival and the up and down fortunes of the clubs and the circles he moved in. Its a film that gives you a glorious sense of time and place and makes you wonder how the hell all that went down really did.

As a glutton for the history of NYC, especially for it's rise from the ashes of the 1970's into the place it is today I was largely enthralled. There are so many interviews with people who were there the film ccould be scene as a vital document. There is so much here I know I'm going to need a second or third time through the film to catch it all.

The problem with the film is it's run time. Running way longer than it really should, the film repeats some things too many times and has several bits that just go on way too long. I got tired before the hour mark especially when I realized there was so much more to go. To be honest the film could lose 45 minutes and not be hurt since most of that would be repetition of several points- most notably everyone saying the same things about Alig.

I like the film a great deal but the repetition makes the film a hard one to recommend since even for me I grew weary.

Taking the problems into account I still recommend the film for true crime junkies, those interested in the club scene and anyone wanting to know what NYC was like in the bad old days.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ted Balaker on free speech and if we can take a joke


CAN WE TAKE A JOKE? is a great film. It is a wonderful exploration of the state of free speech in America today, particularly in comedy and on college campuses.

It is a vitally important film that everyone really should see, especially when one of the candidates for President of the United States seeks to shut down any sort of discussion of his life and policies. Despite giving to lip service to free speech it seems that one of our leaders would actually like to stifle it. It’s also important when one of our major institutions of higher learning, the University of Chicago, has to announce to the world that it not going to stand for the stifling of free speech via trigger warnings and safe places.

When I saw the film last November I raved about it. I tried to get as many people as possible to see it. I also realized after it was over that I had made a major mistake and I had not tried to interview the director Ted Balaker. Here was man with a deep passion for keeping the 1st Amendment to the Constitution fully operational. Listening to him speak after the DOC NYC screening I realized that here was someone to admire.

Sometime just before the film hit theaters and VOD I reached out and tried to contact Ted in the hope of getting an interview. While there can never be too much discussion of free speech, in the present political climate it is something we must never stop doing. I wanted to see what Ted thought of all of the craziness. It took a little bit but Ted and I finally connected and last week we sat down and talked to each other.

While the discussion is predicated on CAN WE TAKE A JOKE?, what follows is for the most part a discussion of free speech in comedy and on college campuses. You don’t need to have seen the film to follow or appreciate the talk that we had. This is simply a discussion of our right to express what we believe or to discuss what is going on around us freely and openly.

I want to thank Ted Balaker for taking the time to do this.

CAN WE TAKE A JOKE? is available at iTumes and other VOD and Pay per view services now


Gilbert Gottfried, DOC NYC programmer Basil Tsiokos and director Ted Balaker  at DOC NYC November 2015


Steve: I'm curious it seems like all the films you've directed are freedom of speech related, especially relating to college campuses. What made you so interested in freedom of speech and campus?

Ted: I guess IMDB page is kind of incomplete because I've done plenty stuff not related to freedom of speech. But free speech has been an interest of mine for a lot of years.

It's been an interest of mine for, for a lot of years. We work closely with the group FIRE,& nbsp;the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and have done for, uh, I don't know, four years or so now. And, um, they're a great group. We, we interviewed, um, you may remember Greg Lukianoff, um, the red-haired guy, uh, in "Can We Take a Joke?"

Steve: Right.

Ted: He's  the president of FIRE. And so we've been working with them and have become very aware of what's going on on college campuses. It's also something that, since I went to college, have started noticing it.

I really like the idea of college. Like everybody gets together and throws around a bunch of crazy ideas and tries to [laughs] , to find out what's true. Um, but unfortunately these days that's not happening as much as it should be. Too often colleges are bastions narrow-mindedness.

And they should be the opposite. And so they're kind of pull, pulling this bait and switch on students and the, the parents that pay for these increasingly expensive educations because they... In all their official communications, they say, "Oh yeah, you know, our college is all about the First Amendment and, you know, free exchange of ideas, and, and it's so important, and blah, blah, blah." But then when you get right down to it, a lot of them don't make good on those promises.

Steve: Do you, do you think it's, it's the college themselves, or do you think it's just a fear of litigation?

Ted: Yeah, that's a good question. Fear of litigation is one reason, and in recent decades it’s become a bigger issue. The Obama administration has broadened the definition of what constitutes sexual harassment, for instance.

And so it could be even like unwelcomed speech that's sexual in nature, and then in practice, the definition of what that is can be very broad. And so a lot of, of colleges are worried about losing their federal funding if they run afoul of these federal guidelines.

And so the fear of litigation is one. And didn't start with the Obama administration. This, this is something that's been going for a long time in this direction, and over the years, in recent decades the administrators in colleges has exploded.

So you hear things like "Adjunct professors" on college campuses, but you never hear like "Adjunct administrator." They’ve got lots and lots of jobs, and they, they busy themselves with maintaining and enforcing these speech codes.

Steve: When I saw the film, I didn't realize the degree to which free speech is being shut down on the college campuses. I haven't been to college for 20 years but I didn't realize that it had it had slipped so much.

I mean where, y-you know, where you had the one, the, the one gentleman -- forgive me, I don't remember his name -- who had put the play on and, you know, a-at every point was telling you, "This is going to offend you. This is going to offend you." And people still went, and then still got upset, and they had been told, from start to finish there were triggers. I mean, that's totally crazy.

Ted: Oh, yeah, it is crazy, and I think a lot of people are in your position, they don't really understand the extent of what's going on and that's why I'm really gratified by the film, the film tends to provoke a lot of discussion. That's one of the, the things I'm most proud about.

We had our LA premier. We did a Q&A and then people, for hours afterwards were still asking questions in the lobby, and it was really great to see everybody not just...have a good laugh and enjoy a film, but then to have it spur more conversation. And I'm hopeful that it'll also help people pay attention to what's going on campuses.

And people who are entering college are always shopping for colleges based on all kinds of different factors. I think one of the factors they should consider is, "Does this college support free speech or not?"

And at thefire.org they rate colleges, red light, green light, and yellow light, uh, green light being where they, where the, they respect free speech, and red light meaning they don't. So students can go online and check it out and see if, you know, if they want to go to whatever university, they can check out the free speech profile, by university.

I think parents should do that, too, and, and alumni. One of the things I saw, there was an article recently in the New York Times about how certain, universities are really feeling it in the pocketbook these days, because after high profile eruptions of outrage and censorship a lot of their alumni are saying, "What's going on?" [laughs]

It's just ridiculous, you know. "This isn't what college is supposed to be about, so, don't expect me to write you a big fat, fat check anymore." And I think, you know, as is so often the case when people start feeling it in the pocketbook, that's, that's when change happens.

Steve: Do you think that this, this outrage is the result of students wanting to shut down the free speech? Is this the administration? Do you think it's like over protective parents? Is that the way it's, this is coming from, or do you just think it's just the guidelines from the federal government?

Ted: I think  there are a lot of different factors, and definitely, uh, over protective parenting is one, you know, sometimes called "helicopter parenting" where parents try to protect their kid from anything uncomfortable that happens in life.

And when they go off to college, they just keep on with that helicopter parenting, and so a lot of times these administrators pick up on it too. So, lot of times people say, "Oh, it's the snowflake generation. They can't take, they can't take criticism."

And I think there's a good degree of truth to that, but I think people are blaming the 18-year-olds maybe a little too much and, and not putting enough blame on the parents,  you know the parents who raised them and then other adults, namely the administrators at universities who kind of carry on for the parents and and often times the professors, too.

It's a bunch of different factors, and definitely over protective parenting is one of the important ones.

Steve: When you, when you put the film together, did you have a focus? You deal with the comedians but, then there is the colleges. Did you put the film together to highlight one thing or just see where it went?

Ted: I wanted it to be entertaining to people, and I wanted them to think about free speech. In terms of, of the elements in it, I knew that we wanted to highlight what's going on in colleges, because that's how this all started in that we were looking at college comedians who are getting shut down for parody satire brand of comedy.

There are plenty more that we could have included we didn't. [laughs] You know, unfortunately  there's a bunch more examples. And then the other element that we knew that we wanted was Lenny Bruce, because number one, he's so important to the history of stand-up comedy, and number two, he's a good reference point.

He shows us how things have gotten better and worse since his time. So you have those, those two elements and the other big element were the comedians

Steve: How much material did you shoot? I was talking to so Kevin Pollack. And he said that he shot...hours and hours and hours for his film [ed Misery Loves Comedy], and he said "I have like tons of stuff that I shot, but it couldn't fit in the film." How much did you shoot? Did you end up with tons of stuff?

Ted: Yeah, there's a lot of great stuff that we just couldn't include in the film for one reason or another. One of my hopes is that we find a way to get that out into the world in, in some form. I'd love to, because the issue is so multi-faceted and there's so many different things and directions you could go.

I mean it would be great to do  a sequel or something in this space again, because the film deals with a topic that's really, really  vast, and, no documentary can be the last word on anything because of the nature of the medium. They're about an hour and a half typically. You're not going to be able to cover every angle in that amount of time. So I'd love to, to find a way to get some of the stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor out into the world.

Steve: Did you end up taping or recording any of the Q&As that you've done? I saw the first showing at DOC NYC. And then I talked to people who saw it at the second one. And they said everybody was talking in the hallway,  in the lobby and this and that. And I just was curious if you recorded any of that, because, as you said, even LA  you had these long discussions,  even after the...

Ted: We recorded, I guess somebody at DOC NYC recorded at least some of it, because I've seen the video. We did have someone in LA record the, the Q&A. It's not up online yet. But, we can probably put it online.

But it would have been nice to see [laughs], you know B roll of all the people even after the formal Q&A, because, you know how it goes. There's the formal Q&;A, and there's talking in the lobby.

And it was just so cool to see people not just watching the movie and file out and go on with their day but  actually watching the movie, and do the Q&A, and then stick around after the Q&A. [laughs] And, and they're just talking and talking and talking.

I hope that that's, that's what the film continues to do, and on about 241 college campuses, during what we call sneak peek week in, in April, and it's the same thing happened there, which is really great.

And, and a lot of times this is where I'm not quite as down on the millennial generation as some people, because I saw how they reacted to the film in April. And there were some cases where you have the kind of narrow-mindedness that we've come to expect from college campuses and people are tearing down promotional posters. Or in one case someone pulled the fire alarm, basically canceled one of our screenings and a Q&A I was scheduled to participated in.

So you have that, but on the other hand you had cases of students have different political points of view coming together, watching a movie, and then talking about it, and talking about why free speech is important and that they disagree on all kinds of issues, but at least they can agree that, that free speech is important if we want to fix society's biggest problems.

We hope to go back on college campuses in the fall. It's always just, a matter of finding funding to do these things. But I'm very hopeful and gratified so far by how it's been able to, to get people talking.

Steve: What was the reaction to people to Lenny Bruce? Because it's very strange.  I'm a huge Lenny Bruce fan. I've been all my life.

Ted: Oh, cool.

Steve: But you know, there's a point where I was talking to some people, and, some were even a little younger than myself. You know, since I'm 51, and even some people not that much younger than me, don't know who Lenny Bruce was. They sort of have a vague idea, and it's like they don't realize what he actually did. Did you get a lot of, you know, like, "Who is this guy" and, you know, that sort of stuff?
Lenny Bruce's mug shot

Ted: Oh yeah. I think you're far more knowledgeable, I gather, about comedy than the average consumer, because we found that, especially among people who are 30 and under, say they've never heard of him before. Or maybe they had a vague idea. But it's been really cool to see that a lot of times people single out the, the Lenny Bruce content in the film as some of their favorite stuff, because they didn't know the story.

And now they do know the story and they recognize that the big contribution he had not just to comedy but to free speech. And it seems bizarre to people that you could get actually [laughs]  get hauled off in cuffs for cursing at a Greenwich Village comedy club.

It seems like, "Well, that couldn't happen in America." And people are, are shocked to find out that actually it did happen in America.

Steve: Yeah.  I love,  Penn Jillette’s comment about that it's so cool that he got arrested, but at the same time...

Ted: [laughs]

Steve: ...you, you have the sense that, you know it's horrifying that he got arrested.

Ted: Oh yeah.

Steve: It's a cool thing to do. But you don't really want that.

Ted: Totally, and you see that, Jim Norton and others in the film, they're saying, nowadays if we get in trouble the punishment is corporate and then we lose our gig on Comedy Central, but we're not getting arrested. [laughs]

And just to be a comedian today or, to just be someone who goes to a comedy club, I mean, can you imagine going to The Comedy Cellar and looking around and seeing cops [laughs] just waiting to arrest a comedian if he steps out of line. That, it just seems like that would never happen here, and, and yet it did.

Steve: Yeah. It's crazy. Which forces the question with this weird shift in the country with Donald Trump and   Hilary Clinton running for President and you have people screaming at each other, "You can't say that about Hilary.” “ You can't say that about Donald." And, you have Donald saying crazy stuff "You can't say that, you can't say anything bad about me." Do you see any change in civil rights coming with the upcoming presidential election?

Ted: Oh yeah, the whole thing is just, just makes my head hurt. [laughs] I'm not a fan of either one, and I don't think either one is particularly good on free speech.  I think if there's any good that can come out of it, it's that people see that they're just screaming at each other. And then they're saying, "You can't say this. You can't say that."

I'm hoping that maybe we'll reach a point where people say "OK, this is peak crazy." [laughs] Hopefully people recognize that this isn't the way to conduct national discourse, that we shouldn't just be  jumping to conclusions and saying everybody is worse than Hitler every time they say something you, you disagree with.

I think Donald Trump is a mixed bag, because he proudly says he is anti-political correctness. But he,  as you, as you kind of laid out a little bit, he's not really for open discussion. I worry that he would just  switch one group of sacred cows for another group.

So he likes to talk about things that are sensitive to other people who he disagrees with, but, if you talk about something and are critical of something that is sensitive to him, look out. Like he's going to, he's going to go ballistic. He's going to probably call you a name.

There, there was some journalist who said that Trump tweeted like a little like a teenage girl or something. And then Trump wanted to get him fired, so  I think Trump isn't like anti-outraged mob. [laughs] He's, I think he would be part of the outraged mob too.

Just like in the film it highlights  most of the outrage that's coming from the left. At least in the film,  that's what was highlighted, because these days, it does seem to be where it's most prevalent. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't come from other directions too.

And, and I think what we find about America is that everybody likes when they have a chance, to engage in outrage. And they like to, when they have the chance, censor people they disagree with. And that, that's whether you're conservative, liberal, or, or whatever. It's just unfortunately a human impulse to want to shut up and muzzle people you disagree with.

Steve: Is t anything that offends? Is there any line for you personally?

Ted: Oh yeah. There's stuff in the film that offends me. And I figured that if I was going to be honest with the audience, I couldn't just  leave my sacred cows alone. [laughs] You know, I, I'd have to include things that offended me too, because if I'm saying to other people, "You've got to learn how to take a joke," then I, I've got to learn how to take a joke, too.

And I think that's part of just growing up and becoming an adult.  I think far too many times these days, when people laugh at something they're really saying, "I agree with that."

And I think it's a mark of a grownup if you can name comedians that you disagree with on, you know, politics, or religion, or whatever issue is important to you, uh, but still say, "Wow, I think that guy or that, that girl, they're really funny."

I think that's a good sign. And I think that far too many people, so much of comedy has just become hyper politicized that they can't even, uh, that they only laugh at things if, if they agree with them politically or, you know, religiously, or whatever the big issue happens to be.

Steve: Who are your favorite comedians?

Ted: Oh wow...a tough one, because there are so many. [laughs]

Lately  my wife and I have been watching, some of the late great Patrice O'Neal and just really remembering how great he was. And even Greg Giraldo. My brother, actually, is writing, co-writing a, a biography on Greg Giraldo. My brother is a stand-up comedian and he was probably the world's biggest Greg Giraldo fan.

Richard Pryor, of course is up there if you're looking at all-time greats. Um, even Dave Chappelle, um, you know, Bill Burr, Louis C.K., um, uh, oh, Jim Norton. Frankly, I love all the comedians [laughs] that are in our film.

And that's part of why we targeted them, Its because it's always better  if you find them interesting and entertaining, ,when you're, when you're editing something for hours upon hours [laughs].

I really love all the comedians we have. I really love all the comedians we have. I mean, take someone like Gilbert Gottfried. Noam Dworman, who we interviewed, the owner of the Comedy Store. He once called Gilbert a comedic savant. And  I think that a lot of people don't fully appreciate like what a comedic genius Gilbert is because he can go totally filthy and blue and he's hilarious, or he can just go on these bizarre tangents and then he can be hilarious that way.

You can see it with some comedians andyou can tell he was influenced by this guy. But Gilbert, he's...it's just like he was hatched in outer space and landed on Earth, [laughs] and he's just like his own dude.

Steve: There's no one like Gilbert.

Ted: Yeah, exactly. [laughs]

Steve: I've been following his career the whole time, and he just amazes me more and more.

Ted: One of the best times I had was when my wife and I just YouTube'd a bunch of his stuff and just random, you know, watched it one after the next. And he just...he's got this, you know. It's just...he's got this jackhammer tongue, and he just does things in a way.

He's just a very unique thinker and comedian. It's so hard just to be funny, and I have such tremendous respect for comedians because I think it's just a really, really hard thing to do to make an audience laugh, but if you can be funny and like completely original the way he is I think that's a whole new level.

Steve: Was there anybody you wanted to talk to for the film and you didn't?

Ted: Oh, yeah . Unfortunately I'm not going to get into really specific names because  you don't really know why they said no. You can only speculate. Is it because they didn't want to stick their neck out about this issue?  I think probably what most of it was was just going back to it was  a really tough pitch.

You're offering them no money and no exposure. They didn't know it was going to happen. They're assuming it's just another indie documentary. And these guys are really, really busy, and they get tons of requests from of all kinds of people.

Steve: Was there anything...was there anything that you really wanted to get in but you couldn't fit or was there anybody you interviewed and you got really great stuff, you just couldn't get it in? Or did you get like everybody in? Did you...?

Ted: Oh, yeah. Well, everybody's in, but there's so many anecdotes. I mean Karen Foster, she had this whole separate episode where she was Don Imus's sidekick after the whole Nappy-Gate thing.

Steve: Right.

Ted: But she ended up, you know, saying how difficult of a job that was, and she doesn't like Imus, um, but she defended him in that. The whole Nappy-Gate thing was in many ways maybe the first example of modern outrage.

I'm not really an Imus fan, but when I investigated it,& nbsp;it seemed pretty clear based on what Karen and others said that it was just like an old dude making, you know, just a clumsy attempt at humor. So that was an episode we couldn't include.

And actually another one which is so...it doesn't have anything to do with comedy, but it was a Holocaust denial, of all things, because that's kind of like the most extreme or one of the most extreme forms of speech.

Or, you know, when people say what kinds of speech should get you in trouble that's often near the top of the list. You know, if you deny the Holocaust, uh, you should be punished in some way.

And so in one of the cuts we had an episode about this British guy who I guess is some kind of historian, and he went to Austria, and he got, uh, thrown in prison for Holocaust denial. Um, and he was in prison for something like four years and so much of the time he was in solitary confinement.

And when he came out of prison he gave this speech to like 10,000 people, and he's greeted like a returning hero. And so I think that example shows that censorship is a great way to turn crackpots into martyrs.

That a lot of times people think that censorship they're shutting down "Hateful" ideas is a really enlightened progressive thing to do, but in practice it backfires so often, and here in the United States we have the First Amendment. You wouldn't have that situation here. You know, someone could deny the Holocaust all they want in the US, and, and what would happen is people would have to use arguments and evidence to point out that he's wrong.

And so I think that's a powerful example that shows even in these really extreme cases...we're all better off if we  combat bad speech with more speech as Penn Jillette says in the film.

Steve: You mentioned the Holocaust just I'm curious. There's a, there's another documentary. Called THE LAST LAUGH on the Holocaust and humor,...

Ted: Wow. Wow, I'd love to see that.

Steve: ...but do you think there's subjects...the real question, and the point of that film was is there anything that you can't make fun of?

Ted: There might be.  I think the thing is that there are always going to be...I'm not going to be the one to say what that thing is  because humor is so subjective, and I could crack a joke about something that offends somebody else,  and it doesn't bother me, but then you could totally reverse the situation where they crack a joke about a topic that doesn't bother them, but maybe it bothers me.

I think what you get into a situation where that if we just made a big list of topics that offend somebody and said all these topics are unavailable for comedians, you know, what would we be left with? Just a bunch of knock-knock jokes, probably, because no matter what topic you're talking about almost any topic somebody can be offended by it.

I think there's another equally important point that a lot of the people who think they're doing God's work by shutting people down and forming Twitter mobs they forget the power of dark humor, the therapeutic power of dark humor that people that jokes that are really, edgy and dark.

I think there's this idea that comedians are telling all these jokes about these horrible things making fun of people who are in these tough situations. And that is almost never the case.

Like Bill Burr has a routine about where he says the word "Faggot" a lot. And if you hear the routine it's very clear that he's not making fun of gay people. He's making fun of homophobia but people kind of hear that, and they have a knee-jerk reaction.

And they don't realize that a lot of the people who get angry about those types of jokes oftentimes a comedian is on their side. [laughs] They have the same point of view as the people getting outraged.

And, since this film has come out I've had so many open and frank conversation with people. One woman told me about like that she was molested as child, and that she was really worried about comedy that incorporated that topic. But then she heard Louis CK's routine in which he talks about it. And she said she laughed, and it helped her. And I think you see that a lot. There's a female comedian who's...I can't remember her name, but she's bipolar and she incorporates jokes about that in her routine.

And what you find is that people who are dealing with these very toughest things in life if they can find some humor in it, it kind of defangs the issue, and it puts the person, it puts the victim back in charge, because that person is seizing power from that evil thing that happened to them and they're using humor to cope with some of the toughest things in life. And  as we quote Joan Rivers in the film, she says that, "Life without humor, it's hard."

Steve: So essentially anything is fine. It's more situational in how it's presented rather than necessarily a blanket, "These subjects are taboo."

Ted: Yeah. I mean I'm not going to be the person to say that this...I'm not going to be the person to draw the line.  Certainly criticize if you want, but people also have to understand the power of context.

We bring up the issue of suicide, for instance, briefly.  Jim Norton talks about Henry Rollins and how he got hammered because he wrote an op-ed saying that parents shouldn't kill themselves because of the damage that it does to their kids.

And then Norton kind of laughs saying now we have punk rockers apologizing for things that we've written. [laughs] And, you know, once the punk rockers are apologizing...we've reached a new level of absurdity. That's what  more important  than comedy. How are we going to discuss the most important issues of the day?

And if you're just going to pounce on people because they say something like "Suicide is selfish," they may be right, they may be wrong, but let's not just shut them up and force them to make a phony apology. Let's talk about the issue. Let's, you know, let's argue it using evidence and good arguments and not just calling people names and demanding that they shut up, because if we can't speak frankly about these really sensitive topics then we don't really have much of a shot of solving the biggest issues that we face.

Steve: And I think I'm going to end here if that's OK with you because  what you've said is so perfect I have nowhere to go.

The Appeared (2007)

Mystery with supernatural overtones about a brother and sister who go to sign off on the impending death of their father in a hospital. Complications almost instantly arise ("We were only suppose to sign papers, not see him" balks the girl). While traveling after signing the papers they discover discover an old diary and some pictures, things which tell the story of a serial killer, a killer that may still be operating.

I've completely botched that and to be perfectly honest short of reading a straight synopsis there is no way, none, to really describe this film. Its a film that refuses to go in any direction except its own. It plays with reality, refuses to adhere to conventions and tells a story that only completely makes sense when you get to the end of it... and in my case its the sort of thing I know I need to see again to get a handle on.

I have no idea if I liked it or not. I know that my insistence that the film be a certain something had me working against it. That's not the way to enjoy this film, its something that you have to let take you where it wants to take you.

Can I recommend it? Certainly if you're willing to let it go and do. I do like bits of it, and there are bits I'm not crazy about, but at the same time any film that makes me want to watch it again (even if its to work out what I just saw) is worth a shot.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Ace The Case: Manhattan Mystery (2016)

While her mom is out of town 10 year old Olivia and her almost 18 year old brother are left home alone. While Olivia is taking the dog out for a walk one night she witnesses some one being kidnapped. Her brother thinks she's nuts. However a nice cop (played by Susan Sarandon) does, but with no evidence there is nothing she can do. Olivia then takes the case in her own hands and tries to solve the case.

Innocuous kids film is going to delight young girls of a certain age. This NYC set riff on Nancy Drew is harmless fun for some of the family...

The problem with the film is that despite coming from writer/director Kevin Kaufman and Executive Producer, Rick Tirelli who worked on "NYPD Blue", “Watching the Detectives,” “I Married a Mobster” and “The Perfect Murder" the film is very much a kids film.  Seriously outside of the death of Olivia's dad in the opening minutes there is nothing tough or offensive in the whole film. Its so sweet and saccharine that I'm guessing tooth decay will result if the film is seen too many times.

Its not a bad film, rather it's simply too much of a kids film. The result is that unless you are in a narrow spectrum this is a film you're going to like but not love and short of having some one of the right age for the film you're going to wonder why you are watching it.

I do like chunks of the film, I think Sarandon is a hoot and a half, and the mystery is pretty cool. The trouble is that  they aimed to please kids and unless you're a kid around ten you're not going to care for it much.

Worth a look for families who've seen the major kids films too many times or fans of Susan Sarandon- all others can steer clear.

Mia Madre (2015) opens Friday

I saw Mia Madre at the New York Film Festival last year and I loved it. The film opens Friday and is absolutely worth your time and money. Here's my NYFF review


Nanni Moretti's MIA MADRE is the rarest of rare birds, a film that will have you doubled over with laughter one minute and sobbing genuine tears the next. It made it's US premiere at the New York FIlm Festival yesterday and instantly jumped to top, or damn close, to being the best film at the festival and one of my great treasures of 2015.

Moretti's film is based on his experience with the death of his own mother. While editing WE HAVE A POPE his mother passed away. He knew he had to do something with the story and he turned it into a film.

The film follows Margherita (Margherita Buy) as she is hard at work on her next film. As she deals with the film and life her mother, a once mighty classics teacher, begins to decline. As she and her brother (played by Moretti) deal with the illness she tries to finish her movie and a crazy American actor played by John Turturro.

Designed to give you the head space of Margherita the film nails what its like to deal with a declining parent slipping toward death perfectly. I could see the conversations I had with my mom in several scenes. The audience around me sobbed at times, and the woman seated to my right bolted toward the end with a loud moan of "I can't deal with this any more" (an earlier comment suggested it was too close to home). Despite how it may sounds its not a depressing film, it is a glorious representation of life and when it ends you will feel really good.

While the entire cast, especially Margherita Bay, are outstanding the one you'll remember is John Turturro who shines as a crazy actor who tells the story, repeatedly, of going to work with Kubrick for a week and staying 3 months. Its a role that produces two scenes of absolute howling tears rolling down your cheeks, falling out of your seat laughter. The first involves shooting a scene in a car, the other a dance that he himself devised. This last bit will put him in the running for an Oscar and brand his career for better or ill as the role that he is best known for.

This is a great film from top to bottom. It is a glorious cinematic representation of life and it moved me deeply. I don't know what to say except put this near the top of your must see list.


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Level Up (2016)

Matt and Anna are a reasonably happy couple. One day some masked men break into their apartment and tell him if he doesn't follow their instructions Anna will die. This sets Matt off on a wild chase across London as he tries to complete various tasks and beat various obstacles.

Good B level thriller is doomed to get lost until a few years down the road when it's certainly going to be rediscovered since LEVEL UP is coming in the middle of Hollywood's larger budget versions of the same thing (NERVE anyone?). Sadly there have been too many variations of "the mysterious group demands our hero or heroine complete tasks which are filmed" over the last couple of years (and weeks)  with the result is that on the face of it there really isn't anything new here.

I know saying that is a shame but it's the truth and watching the film I found that my interest was flagging, not because it's a bad film, it's not, rather it's simply that I've been here way too many times of late.  Had I not seen several variations of this in the last few months I would have been over the moon.

Distancing because its coming in the middle of a cinematic clump aside this is one of the better variations on the the theme. A great cast sells some solid action sequences, a fact which is always good news. Also good news is that the lack of budget has resulted in a script with real characters. I don't know when I saw a film like this where I actually thought of the characters as people and not pawns to be moved about.

Its a good enough film that I suspect that don the road the film will end up being one of those films that people discover on their own and start talking about until the films fortunes turn around and a cult is born.

LEVEL UP opens in theaters Friday and is worth seeing there if you haven't overdosed on similar films. If you have then you may want to wait until the film is on VOD September 26

Space Dogs Adventure To The Moon (2016) opens Friday


The latest in the series of Space Dog films has Pushok, the son of Belka and Kazbek, going to America on a friendship mission. There he ends up winning the heart of the First Daughter much to the chagrin of her other pets (A rude cat, a French poodle and flighty bunny). Meanwhile Belka and Strelka go on a theatrical tour. And while all of this is going on Kazbek ends up going back into space to investigate a green beam that is lifting things off the earth and bringing them to the moon. Of course everyone ends up on the moon-including a monkey from America…

I have not seen the other films in the series, though that may change since I liked this film enough that I may go back and see the first two. The fact that I want to go back and see what went before is high praise because normally I will avoid this sort of film that screams “direct to home video" like the plague since they tend to be a tad too juvenile. That’s not the case here. While clearly geared to kids the dialog, at least in this English version, is hip enough and clever enough that adults will be laughing just as much, if not more, than the kids.

As much as I like the film there are two problems which keep me from being totally over the moon about the film (sorry). First the film is little too busy. There is simply too much going on to the point that the film loses momentum as it moves from plot thread to plot thread. Any traction the film creates lessened as we go to the next character’s bit. Give the film for points for juggling so many, but take one away for bobbling them.

The other problem is that some of the voice work isn’t the best. Whomever does Lenny the rat is doing a weak Steve Buscemi. The vocal work on the American pets also is just okay.

All of that said I really liked the film a great deal, much more than I thought I would.

The film hits selct theaters Friday and is recommended

Monday, August 22, 2016

Floyd Norman :An Animated Life (2016)


When I saw FLOYD NORMAN: AN ANIMATED LIFE I found my reaction to the film was split. On the one hand I fell in love with the film on a purely emotional level. This is a great feel good story about this guy who has managed to spend his whole life doing what he absolutely loves. His joy bleeds out of him and infects everyone around him. Emotionally this is one of my favorite and best  films I've seen in 2016.

However on an intellectual level I really liked the film but I had reservations. The result of this split is I’m going to do this in two parts. I know it will come off as strange but is the only way to fully do justice to the film.

Part 1- The heart's review
FLOYD NORMAN : AN ANIMATED LIFE is almost certainly to be on the Oscar short list. As much as I would think some weightier films might win the Oscar, I'm going to make a guess and say that the film will probably win the Oscar as well because this feel good film is exactly the sort of thing that Oscar voters go for, more so when it is about one of their own.

The film is a celebration of Norman who started as a Disney artist in 1956 and, now some 60 years later, is still working at the age of 81. The film follows his days when as a teenager he worked on an Archie comics spin off and it carries through his off and on again time at Disney, the military, forming his own company, reporting on the Watts riots, working for Hanna Barbara and on through his Floydering and making everyone feel good today. It’s a glorious look at man who seems to have had all the luck in the world and is supremely nice and is well respected.

I loved every minute of this film and stopped my viewing of the screener to fire off some emails to friends saying- essentially "I'm in the middle of this amazing film about this amazing person and that you NEED to see this" implying that the film will be like oxygen for them.  I got some "yea sures", and then when my friends got to see the film themselves they emailed me back telling me how right I as.

Trust me on this, the film is absolutely one of the feel good films of the year and it’s a must see. You absolutely MUST see this film because Floyd and his view of life will make you feel good.

Part 2- The head's review
Despite making me feel all warm and fuzzy with a stupid grin on my face, my brain kept wanting to raise its hand and ask some questions. Don’t get me wrong I was loving and do love the film, but there are a couple of things in the film that are going to keep it off my best of the best for the film.

First, there is no way you can no say the film is not hagiographic. The film is most definitely a celebration of Norman but there doesn’t seem to be a down side to the man.(no seriously) No one is this nice. I mean other than his biting cartoons, there is no sense of him not being a great guy or having a downside. I wouldn’t mention it except the film keeps saying he can be a "troublemaker", but we never really see evidence of it. Norman’s life is largely “great” with other than his scrambling for jobs in the 70’s and 80’s things sort of were good- or were kind of fun the way everyone tells it. Yea his marriage broke up, but they even after that he and his ex remained friends. There is no conflict in his life other than Disney firing him at 65 for no real reason other than being 65.

The film is also weirdly lacking in details about what exactly Norman did. Yes we get some discussion of his work on various films but other than the Trust in Me sequence in JUNGLE BOOK there is very little discussion of the details of what he did for Disney or Hanna Barbara or Pixar or anyone else. I know some of what he did because I'm an animation junkie and I've been running across his work all my life, but for people who don't know they are going to wonder what did he do that has resulted in a fifty plus year in animation? What made him a survivor? We don’t know. With films on animators like Chuck Jones or Frank Tashlin or Tex Avery or Ub Iwerks we got a sense of that, here not so much.

I suspect that since the film was made outside the mainstream, especially outside of Disney brand and the fact that the film is a full bore attack on the ageism that Norman couldn’t talk about in his book (Disney wouldn’t approve material if he kept in in) limited the use of clips which would have illustrated his career better. While we can find the material else where it would have been nice to have a little bit more of a discussion and more clips.

And don’t get me wrong I love the film, I just want to love it more.

A must see when it hits theaters Friday- because you want to be on the ground floor on this films run for the Oscar.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Lauren Humphries-Brooks takes a look at Three Fingers (2015) Women Texas Film Festival 2016

Paul D. Hart’s provocative short film Three Fingers premieres this week at Women Texas Film Festival. In a scant 12 minutes, the film tells the story of a young female Marine in the throes of severe PTSD, her life and marriage in a state of imbalance as she’s unable to shake the horrors of wartime experience.

Three Fingers relies on some simple but effective camera tricks and perspective shots to create the fraught and imbalanced world of a soldier out of wartime. There’s little dialogue for about half the film’s runtime, laying emphasis on the expressive face and body of its protagonist (Virginia Newcomb) rather than her interaction with others. The refrain of “three fingers” recurs during the second half of the film to occasionally violent effect, though the full import of that phrase does not come home until nearly the final shots. It is to Newcomb’s credit that she manages to portray such a depth and complexity of emotion in so short a span, giving us a sense of her character without speaking a word.

In fact, Three Fingers is at its best when there is no dialogue, for once dialogue comes in, it’s unfortunately a little hackneyed. Some scenes turn to simplistic clichés (the protagonist being aggressively picked up in a bar, for instance, with predictable results) to stand in for the more intense, less explicable emotions of trauma and reaction to trauma. While moving, there is nothing there that we have not seen before, often more in depth and with greater nuance. I wished that the filmmakers had not turned to clichés to represent trauma, for its most powerful moments lie in the sense that trauma can appear so banal, and that panic can spring from the mere sight of a discarded beer can.

But Three Fingers finally raises itself above the clichés of a coming-home drama in its depiction of a female soldier dealing with PTSD, and in the visual and aural techniques used to place the viewer in her position. The tension and the terror come through in patches as we watch a woman trying to navigate something as simple as going for a run or washing her face, while she’s set on edge by every sound and sight. There’s a hint of resolution nearing the end, but the film is too short and the condition it depicts too fraught to allow for any simplistic conclusion.

Nightcap 8/21/16 Thoughts on doing interviews, controversies, reviewing friend's films, Liar's Autobiography and Randi's links



I did an interview with Ted Balaker, director of Can We Take A Joke? On Wednesday (It’s going to run in a day or two). Doing the interview it became very clear that while it is important to know what questions to ask, you also need to have a subject who can speak well. It may seem obvious but if the person you are talking to won’t or can’t speak with you then the interview will fall apart. I can ask the right question but if the right question won’t be answered the interview will go nowhere.

In looking over the interview I realized all I did was ask Ted a question and he did five minutes. All I had to do was nudge him to say more. I think you have say as little as possible and let the other person talk. You have to make clear that you know what you’re talking about but at the same time its not about the interviewer.

With several interviews on the horizon I’ve been thinking about how to do an interview on a larger level. What is the way in? What can I ask that won’t get a by rote response. I know you have to balance the “typical” questions with new ones. Because your audience won’t have read all the other interviews you do have to ask certain questions everyone asks- unless you’re really going off the board- or have enough time to actually have a real conversation.

I know the problem is at its worst in the 10 or 15 minute interview where you have no time to really go somewhere new- especially since by the time you BS at the start you’ve lost five minutes. Sometimes you can, when I talked to Alonso Ruizpalacios who directed Guerros we started in left field and stayed there, mostly its five minutes of fumbling before you get going. The fact that you’re boxed is why I hate the five or ten minute interview. Unless its someone I really want to talk to, I try not to do them.
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I’m going to make a quick statement and say that I’m going to continue to steer clear of celebrity controversies. I say this because a couple of stories broke this week involving bad behavior of an actor and a director. While I could do long think pieces on the implications, indeed I have a rough draft about viewing an artist’s work through the prism of their personal lives, I’m going to just let it lie. For the moment I’m going to take the high ground and say the works should be the focus and not the creators- especially since in the present situations the behavior is not linked to the films. I may revisit the controversy down the road if it effects the Oscar race as some suggest it might (while others say it won’t). For now I’m not going to go near it other than to say I’m very aware of the discussion but I’m staying the hell out of it at least in this forum.
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I had some one ask me if it was fair to rave about a friends film.

Yes it is. That’s the way I felt and it would dishonest to say otherwise. I don’t lie about other people’s films why would I lie about a friends?
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And now Randi's links

TCM and the art of falling down
Retro Daze VHS cover collection
Olympic docs you may have missed
The hill that was really a pyramid
200 years of sports photos
The secret to building sand castles
Deadly Kites
Movies and the presidency
Secret Libraries
The over priced LOTR/Hobbit super set

42 SECONDS OF HAPPINESS (2016) Women Texas Film Festival

A group of 30 somethings come together on the eve of a hurricane for the wedding of to of the group. But as everyone sits around talking and drinking their feelings come bubbling out threatening to do more damage than the storm.

Flashy low budget drama could have used a little less flash  as the script tries way too hard giving us the unnecessary symbolism of the approaching storm storm and the use of split screen which annoys rather than enlightens. While the cast is most certainly game, they are unfortunately saddled with a screen play which is trying to do too much with a plot has been done to death. Other than the fact that the couple getting married is same sex there isn't anything really new here. This isn't to say it's bad, its not, rather its to say that the cast is much better than the material they are working with and if you see this film it would be to see a bunch of excellent actors going through their paces.

To be perfectly fair I'm the wrong audience for the film. I have a low tolerance for inde drama, especially for ensemble films where friends get together and have revelations about life.  I need something to pull me into the film, I need something special to grab my attention and get me past my resistence and that never happened here.

Line Walker: The Movie (2016)

Nick Cheung, Louis Koo, Francis Ng and Charmaine Sheh star in a spin off of a TV series which concerned the murder of a police official who wiped the files of all the undercover officers before he died. Here the story picks up with one of the former under cover cops being contacted by a previously unknown officer named Blackjack. It seems he's aware of some big moves going on in the under world and he begins feeding the police info. The trouble is the cops can't be certain if he's real since the Blackjack file was damaged to the point that all they know is  that it is "something" but they aren't sure its even an officer.

LINE WALKER is being poorly released in the US. Itsonly in a tiny number of theaters and the company doing the PR is sending tickets to the press and not screeners so any reviews will appear during or after the run. There appear to be no ads for the film and as Joe Bendel and I were standing outside the theater waiting to go in we were being asked what the film is because no one knew.  Its a shame because this is one of the best Hong Kong films I've seen this year.

Despite the fact that you can feel the connection to the TV series bleeding off the screen, Charmaine Sheh and several other in the cast were in the series and it references things that happen, this is still a twisty turny action filled crime film that draws you in and drags you along.  In all seriousness this film has some truly mind blowing action sequences, any one of which would be enough to make the film a must see, but every action scene kicks ass and are the sort of thing you'll want to watch again and again on home video. (And might I say the lady bodyguard battling assassins in the tunnel as being the height of cool- actually her character is a kick ass lady of action)

How good is the film? When it was done I was ready to climb back on board and go for it all over again. I couldn't wait to get home and type it up so that I could start to get the word out on the film.

Is the film perfect? No. There are a couple of bits that seem to be a bit too referential to the series and some of the shifts in the final bit don't make complete sense- I mean how does the bad guys know where a certain place is? However its not even remotely damaging, it's more a tiny scratch in a new car's paint as opposed to a damaged fender. The action and the well drawn characters carry it all along.

After the film ended Joe and I both agreed that this was a film that needs to play at New York Asian.Film Festival next year- or anywhere people love Hong Kong action. This is too good a film to have slide off into oblivion because people don't know it exists and because it gets almost no publicity.

Playing in a tiny handful of theaters LINE WALKER is a film you're going to have to search out. Hopefully it will get a home video release so that the film can finally find the audience it deserves.

Highly recommended.

A list of theaters in the US and Canada can be found here

Man Vs Snake to get a free screening on the 26th

I got a press release concerning MAN VS SNAKE an awesome video game documentary that is going to screen for free on Friday. Its a great film. It made my Film Finds list for last year. (I kind of reviewed it here).

You have to see the film because it's one of the best video game docs you'll see. And if you can't tune in for free rent the damn thing on VOD like iTunes or Amazon.

Here are the details on the free screening

The award-winning documentary MAN VS SNAKE: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler, the thrilling saga of one of eSports original heroes, will make its Webcast Premiere as part of Twitch Weekly (https://www.twitch.tv/) on August 26th, 2pm/PDT. This is a one-time only, free screening of the feature documentary in its entirety for the Twitch audience.

MAN VS SNAKE won Best Picture Documentary awards at Fantastic Fest Film Festival 2015 and Calgary Underground Film Festival 2016, honorable mention at Twin Cities and Omaha Film Festivals and Best Editing Award at FilmQuest 2016 — it currently has a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score. Distributed by Filmbuff, the film is currently available on major on-demand platforms as of June 24th.

Synopsis
MAN VS SNAKE is a competition/e-Sports doc, that chronicles the story of the first billion-point arcade game (as achieved by Timothy McVey in 1984 — using one quarter and 44 1/2 hours of nonstop play) and the modern day misadventures on an international assortment of competitive “Nibbler” players still contending for world record dominance — yes, it’s weird, but also very entertaining. Moreover, the central theme of a middle-aged man attempting to recapture the glory of his youth is pretty inspirational.

If you ever played the game 'Snake' on your early model Nokia cellphone, then you're familiar with 'Nibbler,' the original 'snake' game. MAN VS SNAKE tells the story of Tim McVey who, in 1984, on a single quarter (and over 44 hours of non-stop play) was the first person in history to score over one billion points on a video game. 25 years later, rumors of a higher score surface online, attributed to Italian kickboxing champion Enrico Zanetti. This calls into question everything Tim McVey has believed for decades and forces him to make a decision: either set a new world record, or risk losing his legacy forever.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Women Texas Film Festival 2016: Shorts Part 2

A few more thoughts on a few more shorts playing at Women Texas Film Festival


BALL IS LIFE
A much too short film about a young woman for whom basketball is life being forced to contend with an unexpected pregnancy.  Running a scant 7 minutes the film doesn't have enough time to really build to anything. I wish director Terry Bluez had allowed the story more time.


KLEPTOMANIA
A young thief has a sense of remorse and returns what she has stolen and changes her life. Good little film.


LETTER E
Eleanor loves everything that begins with the letter E,  especially her boyfriend Ed...except Ed's name isn't really Ed.

One of the best films on a technical level st Women Texas FF, it is lessened by the overly quirky nature of the story. Very much insisting on getting it's quirk on and making damn sure that we are aware of how clever it is, LETTER E is a film that is trying way too hard. As good as the film is you kind of wish it would stop calling attention to itself and just tell the damn story.  Its a good film but it should have played better.


LOTUS GUN
Post apocalyptic tale set 60 years in the future. People either live on communes or the wild. When a stranger enters Nora and Daph's lives things go south and Daph has to try and find her friend.

I understand the film was made for no real money but I never really bought into the film with the look of it all being too much window dressing and the world not making a hell of a lot of sense. For example not a hole hell of a lot happens in the first chunk of the film where the to women hang out and smoke. That's all well and good but where did they get the try leaves to smoke and where is the paper from? (also it takes much too long to get going- this is a short you can't have nothing happen for a quarter to a third of the running time)

Ignoring the fact that no none of it feels real the story is a not bad short story of life past the fall. Taking it on its own terms it's entertaining but its nothing I would ever consider seeing again or recommending.


STARRY NIGHT
A young woman wants to leave her home and become an astronomer but has to fight ignorance, her family, poverty and life and general.

Very good coming of age and finding one's place story.  Its a beautifully acted  film that is glorious to look at. Its so well done that it over comes it's been there plot to be something truly special. See this film.

In Brief: MIZ MARKLEY AND ME (2016) Women Texas Film Festival


Documentary/essay by Sharie Vance about coming to terms with who she is. Vance a late bloomer went to film school and in middle age is forced to come to terms with the fact that she may never be a real filmmaker. Then she runs into Lisa Markley singer who is also a late bloomer who's drive to do what she loves makes Vance reconsider giving up.

Lovely midsized documentary (it runs 45 minutes) is a wonderful look at a couple of people who find that you are never too old to do what you love.

For tickets go here

Glimmer Man (1996)

While the film is about bad guys using a serial killer as cover for their murders, the title character is actually Steven Segal, a super-secret agent now working as a cop. Back in his bad federal service days he got the name because you’d see nothing, then the glimmer of something right before you died. Segal has given that all up and has become a Buddhist homicide detective in LA. He had moved because of scandal when a suspect died in NYC. Teamed up with Keenen Ivory Wayans the pair get into trouble when they stop a hostage situation and refuse to not tell the truth. This puts them on a collision course with a bad industrialist with ties to the Russian mob.

Smart ass buddy cop action comedy where a running joke is a dried deer penis joke came at the tail end of Segal’s box office reign and it collided with Wayans failed attempt at becoming an action star (why he never clicked is beyond me because he is very good). After this Segal’s ego got in the way of his script choices and the films began to flop left and right. (Actually what I think happened was that his ego made him difficult to work with so people stopped sending him good scripts-there are all sorts of stories about his being hellaciously late for this film). When this film came out is was viewed as a nail in Segal’s screen career but watching it 20 years on it actually plays better than some of his early mega hits.

The reason the film works is that it’s the right mix of action and humor. The jokes don’t strain to be funny or clever they are the sort of thing that someone might say in the situation. Its helps keep it real. While the action is not always realistic, what Segal film is?. The action is, for the most part nicely low key until the final confrontations. Yea Segal kicks ass but it’s never really too much. The final beat down is of course over the top but it’s more as an exclamation point to the proceedings.

I really like this film a great deal. I think it works a hell of a lot better than many of Segal’s earlier films. I like the restrained action and as for the plot , it actually has one where something like OUT FOR JUSTICE doesn’t have one and MARKED FOR DEATH is a total mess with Jamaican twins as drug dealing psychos. Segal’s best films, this. ABOVE THE LAW (which was the template for several other of his films), UNDER SIEGE work because there is a real story to hang the action on. The problem is most of his films are just action bits with filler between them.

Definitely worth your time if only to remember that Steven Segal used to actually make decent films

Friday, August 19, 2016

TOY (2016) Women in Texas Film Festival 2016

I have no idea if I like TOY or not. There is something about it that didn't quite work for me, but at the same time its a ballsy defiant film that is uniquely its own thing. I completely understand why it was programmed at Women Texas Film Festival where it is one of the absolute must sees.

The film follows an artist named Chloe who is having assorted problems. Difficult to deal with she is battling various substances, bad relationships and bad choices. When she meets Kat, a call girl, she begins to fall in love. However the pair's demons threaten to rip them apart.

Beautifully acted and hauntingly shot TOY is a film that burns itself into your brain. A late addition to Women Texas FF, it's clear why it was added- once seen you can't forget it. I am in awe of the film simply because it seems to frankly go where few films have ever gone. There is something about the film and it's characters that one can not shake.

To be honest I have no idea if I "like" the film. I think it starts awkwardly, (Chloe challenges us from the start and it makes it a battle to get into) and there are some rough spots along the way, but at the same time the film is a cinematic slap in the face. It forces you to confront it and it's themes head on and it doesn't give you a moment's respite. Its one of the most combative and challenging films I've seen in 2016 which  alone makes it a must see film.

Films like TOY are why I go to film festivals. A darkly challenging film it is decidedly off the beaten path and trip you'll want to experience. You may not like it but you'll at least know you're seeing a film that isn't like anything else you've seen all year.

Highly recommended

For tickets go here

Not Too Young (2016) Women Texas Film Festival 2016

Full disclosure for those who aren’t regular readers of Unseen Films Alec Kubas-Meyer is a friend and occasional contributor to Unseen Films. That said, my feeling for his film was in no way influenced by that. If anything the fact that I know him and the cast was a distraction because I saw my friends on screen. Despite that the film still knocked my socks off. If the film had been bad I would have told him so, as he will attest since we’ve had arguments about projects that I thought didn’t work. 



Alec Kubas-Meyer’s NOT TOO YOUNG is one of the most challenging films you’ll see- period. The film is a slap in the face and a challenge to what you think and feel or rather what you think you should think and feel. Simply put you don’t want to feel for Alec's protagonist, but you do.

The film concerns a man, played by the director, who is a a hebephile (meaning he is attracked to adolescent girls). The film charts his struggle to deal with his attractions. The film is unsensational, it just is, and it ends with a moment that is unexpected and, dare I say it, hopeful, which is going to troubling for many people.

It is a film that hangs with you. I’ve have seen it several times, the last one last night at Alec's insistence and I find I am haunted by it. It’s a film that is like sitting at fancy dinner and having the chair pulled out from under you, except that instead of crashing to the floor you go into a slow motion fall that lasts months or years as you ponder what you’ve just seen and why you feel as you do. You are  not supposed to feel this way,  but you do. I’m still waiting to crash from having the chair pulled out and having my emotions jumbled.

Alec has made a masterpiece. This isn’t a button pusher but a button stomper. He’s blown up the box on how we are supposed to feel for certain type of character and set the old notions on fire. It’s a film that some people are going to dismiss not because it’s bad but because it’s too good, he’s made a film some can’t like because a person who is “bad” finds, perhaps, a way out.

This is going to be a controversial film, and I suspect some people are not going to want to run it. or see it.  Its understandable, as much as I think its a great film, it still disturbs me.

NOT TOO YOUNG is a punch in the face. It’s a film that will challenge you. It’s a film that will make you think and feel things you don’t want to. Its a film that does what all great films and great filmmakers do- make you both think and feel.

Even allowing that Alec is friend, I have no trouble saying he is a genius. He is a filmmaker of the highest order and one you need to watch and NOT TOO YOUNG proves it in spades.

For more information and tickets to the Women Texas Film Festival go here

Women Texas FF The Shorts Part 1

Below are the first batch of the best of the shorts that I saw playing at the festival. I am still going threw other films as this posts so look for another post over the weekend.


YOU-PEARL AND THE BEARD
Charming music video about two women who go to a restaurant.

THREE FINGERS
Beautifully shot, very moving look at a woman with PTSD. Damn if they didn't get it right.

PUPPET LADY
Portrait of Lillie Solomon a woman who loves puppets and performing. This is a neat little film about a woman and her passions.

100 LEVELS OF JUST IN TIME
A group of friends get together to play a board game and get sucked into it. Think of it as a solid riff on JUMANJI. I want to see asequel

ONE FOR THE ROAD
Made in 48 hours this is the story of a road trip- can't say more than that because you'll know when you see it. Excellent and one of the delight of the film festival with a kick in the ass ending. One of my favorites

MOSCA (Fly)
A young woman goes home to visit her cousin. Awesome acting and beautiful filmmaking  made me want to see more of this story. There is something here and this film should be turned into a feature- but the cast as to be the same.

MINOR SETBACK
The story of two girls who take a day off from work and then things go side ways. The unexpected turns make this a delight

BETTY
A girl gets revenge at a bake sale. I dare not say more than that except its funny, sick and twisted.

HARD BROADS
A riff on WEEKEND AT BERNIE'S when three women have to get a dead star out of their house.

For tickets go here